Chris Claremont’s X-men
IMDB YEAR RELEASED:
Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, Ann Nocenti, Hallie Cooper-Novack, Sean Howe, Lon Brown, Rob Liefeld, Heidi MacDonald, Alicia Marie, Lauren Matesic, Tom McLean, Jessie Pridemore, Peter Sanderson, Jason Aaron, Amanda Lynne Shafer, Jim Shooter
Chris Claremont’s X-men is a documentary celebrating Chris Claremont’s unprecedented 17 year run writing Marvel’s X-men titles, covering his initial days all the way until he unceremoniously resigned in 1991.
With all sincerity, I will communicate upfront that objectively reviewing this documentary will prove to be an impossibility, because I have been an avid fan of Chris Claremont’s writing since I was young enough to read his work. I freely admit that I was a reader of X-men from very early in his run, and have even attended comic conventions where he was featured as a panelist. I remember geeking out with the Beard and my brother, Marc, as we watched this heavyset, yet striking blonde storyteller orate on his ideas about character development and his creation of a robust mutant mythology. So when I stopped surfing Amazon Prime to peruse the plot summary for this documentary, not only was I emotionally compelled to watch it, but I sat rapt, mesmerized by what I was watching, inundated by nostalgic impulses that long lay dormant inside of me. It may already seem an over-statement, so I won’t proceed to gush any further; however, I will suggest that you might want to watch it, if you have ever enjoyed the X-men comic books, cartoons, or movies. I guarantee that whatever incarnation you enjoy, it has somehow been inspired by Claremont’s work.
The documentary begins with some narration and stills of childhood in the late 40’s and 50’s, where it’s discussed that having been raised in a military family, Claremont didn’t have many friends growing up because whenever he would make friends they would have to move. In college, he studied acting and hence learned character development as a major instrument to perpetuating story. For a college internship, his father contacted a family friend at Mad magazine to see if he could go work there for free, but the family friend thought it would be more appropriate for Claremont to work at Marvel. During an editorial meeting with Len Wein, it was proposed to put Uncanny X-men on a bi-monthly schedule in a last ditch attempt to save a dying book. Len Wein felt he had too many irons in the fire to commit to writing another comic, so the young upstart Claremont volunteered to make the attempt, and the rest is history.
The story is told mostly via an interchange of narration and anecdotes told by Claremont, Louise Simonson, and Ann Nocenti. Interspersed throughout well-known cos-players are shown in dramatic poses to split the narrative structure like chapters would in a book. Also, there are industry talking heads sprinkled throughout that amplify and echo some of the tales shared.
Louise Simonson was his editor for most of that period and Ann Nocenti was her assistant. The trio are generally seated on a couch and verbalize stories about the great creative atmosphere that pervaded Marvel in the 80’s. They tell these tales about how Simonson had to sometimes massage Claremont’s ego to get the best out of him and other-times she had to walk him through plot changes to get the best out of him. Of particular interest is, of course, the Dark Phoenix Saga, a standout story that is still interpreted in the movies and the cartoons. Jim Shooter’s role is clarified in the incident that killed off a major character and really gives the watcher a more introspective view of what occurred, the how and the why,
Probably the most distressing things are near the end of Claremont’s run. Here he is a staple of the X-men franchise, having brought it from the brink of the abyss to Marvel’s #1 title and the corporate structure decides to bastardize this high-concept work. It begins to water down the art by adding New Mutants, X-factor, Excalibur, another X-men title (aside from Uncanny X-men), and X-force. It then gave more creative control to Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld (God save us), and Marc Silvestri. I’m not saying that these guys don’t have talent. I’m just saying that Chris Claremont (after 17 years) should have been treated better. However, the documentary should find a spot on your geek shelf. For my part, this documentary is worthy of 4 Grey Geeks. This is a High Recommendation.